Making Sense of it

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(Details from) Acknowledge the Fear. E Delpech

Recently it has been pretty intense. Let me fill you in. I have done an 8-week Mindfulness course which has required me to think about my thoughts. To think about HOW I think. To think about the things I try not to think about. To think about what I suppress, or what makes me sad. To think about negative thoughts and to learn to let go of them. It is all embodied in my last post in the sculpture ‘I Am The Mountain’. I am indeed the mountain. Only, this process has opened me up to something I had not accepted prior to this. It has made me question all sorts of assertions I made about myself. It has made me challenge my perceptions of what ‘rational’ thoughts actually are, how one decides what is clinically on some kind of spectrum in the range which might require intervention. I am, let’s be clear, not worried about my own mental health. However, I am interested in how revealing the process has been and how this has impacted on my work. It seems that the recent work is much more about a suggestion, an impression, a thought or as I have described a few times, a whisper. There are scars and bleeding and bruising and fear all mixed in with longing and hopefulness and calm. My typically colourful palette will not yield to any dark, it refuses. And I consciously approve. Because it is the palette which draws me in. It is the blend of red and oranges and the struggle and play between them which tells a story and allows me to fall into the ‘patchwork quilt’ of hues. My eyes are in the middle of it. I know it from one edge to the other, every daub of paint, every brush stroke. Every sore, or scratch, each shadow and highlight. It is all felt in that moment as it is created.

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Les Bicknell 1

And then I have this amazing tutorial with Les Bicknell who’s art work (above) appears almost the antithesis of what I have been doing. The structure, rigidity, perfection, balance, measured and precise approach so in contrast to my mindful abstraction. Yet he understands the processes I am exploring, and my desire to connect. In discussion we dissect some of the issues: why am I doing this and what do I want to achieve? Yes indeed. Why am I planning to give vast amounts of painting away? Why am I planning to paint models and parade them around to be photographed in a range of different places?

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Why am I even interested in painting on flesh and what has this got to do with anything? Where do I sit as an artist: what is my point? These conversations are the injection of adrenalin which fuels an artist. It forces me to take a stance and say THIS is what I believe in, THIS is what I am thinking and feeling. So, my paint is my mask: it is the outer – the bit you are allowed to see and question. It is exactly the same as my makeup: it is a shroud, a division. I let you in but only so far, only this close.

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Les’s question about why I am not stitching with my own hair made me feel he really understood what I was thinking. YES! Stitch with my own hair: as Mona Hatoum did, and my friend and MA colleague Monika Breuckner did last year. The hair brings it together. It remains a self-portrait, even more embedded with my own DNA, with strands of me, with parts of my actuality, whilst also being entirely separate: used, disposable, dirty and arguably beautiful in equal measure. I am excited to start stitching these together and feel that it will connect me even more intensely with the work.

We discussed my interest in working with patients, in looking into the Prinzhorn Collection and the notion of Art and Psychosis. It is 18 years since I created a work for the electroconvulsive therapy waiting room at St Clement’s Psychiatric Hospital and I have grown up in a house where mental health was often discussed and was a relevant topic of interest. (My mother founded the Association for Post-Natal Illness, gaining an MBE for 30 years of service to mental health). My recent work with Crisis and my upcoming voluntary work at a local hospice are both opportunities to think even further about ‘the point’. That connection. That connectivity. It is not about making sure everyone knows the name Emma Delpech and that I have millions of followers and am paid in hundreds of thousands. It is about what is real to me in Art, what is tangible and what gives it value to me. The reality is that I am connected. I am involved. I am helping. I am sharing. I am part of. I am, as Les describes ‘the subversive maverick who controls the world‘, busy questioning the value of art and the relevance of how my experience of making the work is shared.

Les’ advice:

Stitch with hair. Give work away. Ask those it has been given to to photograph it in situ and describe how they feel about it, or when they notice it. Offer work to homeless people (remain inclusive): Art can change lives! Build networks and make sense of the connectivity of the world – make it work for me. Visit the Wellcome Collection for further ideas on Meditation and Consciousness.

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